Barbara Kingsolver: The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof

-from Animal Dreams, a stunning early novel of Kingsolver’s I read till it fell to pieces…and I am a careful reader 😉

And I took this to heart, and I worked on myself, and sh*t kept falling down, and even so, within 10 years I had started painting, and had found my process and wrote this in the artist’s statement for my 2003 exhibition ‘No Such Thing As Empty Space’ :

I paint because nothing else calls to me the way the making of paintings does. To prepare a painting, to move paint over a surface is the most interesting, compelling, spiritually opening, deeply satisfying act I know…the best use I can make of my life, an act that centres everything and gives me a place to stand, just as I am. To pick up an oilbar or even a brush loaded with primer and to feel a momentum building until I simply have to explore what is possible in this moment, given the time, energy, ideas, feelings and materials to hand – what could be better? Paintings are both a space and a time, an object and a process, painting/s, noun and verb in one…the newer works are also love painting/s, paintings made for the love of paint, its materiality, physicality, presence…sumptuous surfaces dance, dazzle, drift…too complete to be empty, too active to be empty, too full of possibility to be empty…


detail Hsien/Celestial Dee Fairchild 2003

What do you do, when you can no longer do what made you most alive?

Cherise asked me what makes me most alive now. Getting lost in making, assemblage and embellishment makes me forget the chronic pain, and I do enjoy it. The best is probably making machine cords, creating amazing combinations of colours and textures and making structures and fabrics out of them. It’s not the same as painting though, it’s absorbing, but not as directive as painting was –  I used to floss my teeth because I was a painter! It was in everything! And working on the self promotion and marketing side of being an artist was hard then, but the last few days I have felt so sad…because it’s even harder when I don’t have the same backbone about my installations that I did about my paintings, I just ‘knew’ that they had followed process and come to resolution, and that this was how they were meant to be. I can feel the conviction of following process, but hard as it was to get respect as a painter, fibre art is so ignored by the conceptualists, it just feels twice as hard now… and I feel disempowered in how I’m handling it…

I hoped the Friday class would give me some …. confidence? some techniques to manage the stress? I’m not sure now, because it’s such a long time since I signed up. I did hope I would feel more confident tackling proposals and approaching galleries. And the class has been excellent in many ways, and I really admire Chris Lewis-Jones for juggling the different (hugely different 😉 ) expectations of the class members, but right now, right now, I feel really sad… I feel very reminded how judgemental and prejudiced I find the artworld mindset. I feel as ignored there as I did in my family. I feel no encouragement to be an artist, no welcome…the artists I would get on with are far flung round the globe, and have to fight their own corner…

I know that naming the problem is a vital stage of working through this, I know even writing this is already changing how I feel, that empoweredness is rising up and refusing to be drowned in negativity… 😉

I see I have already identified a shift I need to make in practice, the installations are needing to find a new form, and when I think of how I laughed for joy making this piece for my City and Guilds:

south notts work 022

– then I can get a handle on what to do…this is so not what was expected by the tutor or examiner or visitors 😉

I do wish that galleries could be a bit more excited and a bit less dismissive, I do wish the originality of what I’m doing was more important than whether the Park keepers feel its presence in their lovely park is a threat to green flag status (tidyness?) but I can also feel the momentum returning…if galleries offer no support and cost lots of money to exhibit in, then…guerilla art and pop-up exhibitions are the way to go…

I return to the memory of a visitor to the 2003 exhibition. He came across and said, “Oh, I needed that!” He’d been standing for a few minutes in front of ‘with/out’, an abstract of yellows, oranges and golds while his grandson toured the other 47 paintings…”It’s been a long winter, I needed to remember it’s always summer really, somewhere…”

And a friend’s husband visiting  ‘Pushing Buttons, Ringing Bells’:  “Don’t tell me what it’s about, I see my own meaning…it’s all the lost memories, when the mind’s gone.” Yes, that is what it was about…dementia and memory and respect for what’s still inside someone, that they can’t communicate anymore…

Thread painting is still painting, inflecting the surface and playing with planes is still what makes me happy and I am lucky to still have this possibility. When I tune in to the process and follow it mindfully, I get the affirmation from the public, and the internet has made contacting the public directly so much easier. Galleries and those who love the jargon are not set up for the direct experience of vibrant, engaging work that invites touch and the unravelling of rules… so let that side go, set myself loose and go play 😉